The year was 1964. We made a decision to leave Dallas, Texas and move to Ireland. We could be of help in strengthening small congregation there and establishing new one. America was enduring some of her worst times. Integration was being enforced by government decree. Resistance to this basic change was strong and unrelenting. Kids were being escorted to school by Federal troops. The American people were on edge.
One mother was so distraught that when her little daughter came home from the first day of school she inquired, “What happened, how was it?” Her first grader said, “I was afraid, Mom, and they put me on a seat with a little black boy and we were so scared we just held hands all day long”. Murder and violence was the order of the day. The newspaper presses went wild and even the pages of the foreign press was covered with red and black ink. It was an ugly picture of America gone wild.
During this time we were in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was seated beside a dear little Irish lady on the upper deck of one of their famous red double-decker buses. “What are you doing in our city?” she inquired in a wee soft voice. I was so stupid I blurted out, “I’m here to preach the gospel of Christ!” There was a long moment’s pause and then she turned to me and said, “Have you finished your work back home yet?” This was the perfect squelch. By the way, St. Patrick had brought the message of the Christ to Ireland back in the fourth century.
We bought a quaint little house at 76 Gilnahirk Road. The Irish are famous for their friendship and the open hand of fellowship was extended to us from the start. Belfast is a city of some half-a-million and is the center of County Down. The city center is a work of art with beautiful monuments were erected all around the city square. There was one in particular that caught our eye. It was a monument to the Irish who lost their lives in the Titanic disaster. It was replete with waves and those in it with their hands uplifted crying out for help. There was an angel reaching down to aid those doomed to their death in the icy waters.
Not far from the city center was the gigantic boat works of Harland and Wolfe where the Titanic was crafted, fitted and launched. This was the queen of all ships and so designed to be declared as “Unsinkable”. The name itself speaks of great magnitude, force and power.
It was on April 10, 1912 that she set forth on her maiden voyage. She slipped out of Southampton Harbor with grace and power. The ship was longer than four city blocks and weighed 46,000 tons. The engines of 50,000 horsepower could move the ship without effort at 22 knots. Without any question it was destined to break all speed records in crossing the Atlantic. It was the pride of the Emerald Isle. No ship before had such grandeur and grace.
The ship sported a gym, tennis and squash courts, swimming pools and a spacious deck area. With a theater, ball room, cards, music and special room for smokers, it was lauded to be the rich man’s paradise. A small golf course was added along with grills, restaurants, dining rooms and an English chophouse. Speaking of weight, each link in the huge anchor weighed 175 pounds.
It was said that in the luxury suites, card rooms, dining rooms and gymnasiums, one could have rolled a ten-dollar gold piece in any direction and hit a millionaire. The total wealth of those on board was estimated at a half billion dollars. In those days, that kind of money could challenge Fort Knox.
High in the crow’s nest, Frederic Fleet, the lookout man, had seen a huge black mass looming in the vessel’s path. He instantly struck three bells and sent an urgent telephone warning to the bridge. The quartermaster on duty reacted immediately. He swerved the ship sharply off the starboard. The icy shadow of the iceberg could be clearly seen but the warning came too late. The Titanic, while appearing to have missed the berg, rammed her starboard side against it. The water tight compartments were ripped open, one by one, filling up and spilling over into the next. At that instant, the massive ship was “dead in the water”.
This 300 foot gash left the body of the ship open to the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Passenger hardly noticed the collision or anything out of the ordinary. Those below knew exactly how serious it was. Captain Smith hurried to the wireless cabin where Second Operator Harold Bride had just come on duty to aid John Phillips. Smith’s instructions were a model of calmness and brevity. “You better get assistance,” he said. “Shall I use a distress call?” Phillips asked. “Yes, urgent, at once”, came the sad reply.
“SOS . . . SOS . . . SOS” was tapped out, using the new international danger signal that had just been adopted by the Berlin convention.
The Titanic, going at full speed in an effort to set a new crossing record had struck the mammoth berg about midnight. At 2 Am., the band that played continuously began an old familiar hymn, “NEARER MY GOD TO THEE”. They made no effort to leave and eventually went down with the ship. Only thirteen lifeboats had been successfully launched and saved about 700. Sixteen hundred lost their life in the icy waters that night.
Later someone remarked, “And as the smart ship grew, in stature grace and hue; in shadowy silent distance grew, the iceberg too.” Wise King Solomon wrote, “Vanities of vanities, says the preacher, all is vanity . . . One generation passes away and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4).